The stately homes and palaces that should be on your radar this summer

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Words by Harriet Cooper

From Tudor mansions with mazes to opulent royal residences, the Greater Anglia network boasts some of England’s finest stately homes and palaces. So why not jump on a train and take a trip into the past at one of these historic piles?

The royal one

Buckingham Palace is open for just 10 weeks of the year, between 20 July and 29 September, when visitors can explore the state rooms, the public rooms where the royal family receive guests on ceremonial and official occasions.

There are 19 rooms in total, mostly reflecting the taste of George IV, who commissioned the architect John Nash to transform Buckingham House into a grand palace in 1825. From the sumptuous White Drawing Room to the red-and-gold splendour of the Throne Room (the setting for the wedding photos of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), each room is packed with objets d’art. You’ll see paintings by Van Dyck and Canaletto, sculpture by Canova, Sèvres porcelain and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.

You can also book a Garden Highlights Tour, during which you'll see a 150 metre herbaceous border, the rose garden, the enormous Waterloo Vase – a stone urn fashioned from a single piece of Carrara marble – and the palace tennis court, where King George VI and Fred Perry played in the 1930s.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

Buckingham Palace in London

The Jacobean one

When Thomas Howard, the first Earl of Suffolk, decided to rebuild Audley End House and Gardens, near Saffron Walden in Essex, in the early 17th century, no expense was spared. Indeed, it was the most ambitious house of its time in England – a royal palace in all but name.

In the late 18th century, Sir John Griffin (the 4th Baron Howard de Walden) employed the architect Robert Adam to improve the design, and Capability Brown was set to work on the grounds. Today, this decadent Jacobean mansion may be a third of its original size but it is no less impressive, offering visitors a wealth of activities.

Wander the impressive great hall, state apartments, libraries and Gothic chapel; immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells ‘below stairs’; say hello to the horses in the stable block; and stroll the tranquil gardens. Over the summer, you can also meet costumed characters who will bring Audley End back to its Victorian heyday, enjoy an outdoor concert and even watch some jousting.

Enjoy our 2FOR1 entry offer for Audley End House and Gardens. Offer not valid on bank holidays or event days.

Nearest station: Audley End

Audley End House and Gardens

The one with a maze

Hampton Court Palace in London is a Tudor gem. The original palace was begun in the early 16th century by Cardinal Wolsey, who invested a fortune in building himself a palace that was fit for a king. He was a victim of his own success: Henry VIII liked it so much that he took it for himself and moved in.

In the late 17th century, William III and Mary II commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build a new baroque palace, which Queen Victoria decided to open to the public in 1838. To this day, its rooms are packed with art and history. This summer, there’s also a wealth of activities on offer, including Tudor cookery, story time adventures and Henry VIII’s sporting academy.

Kids will also love the Magic Garden and the 250-year-old vine, but it’s the maze that steals the show. The world’s oldest surviving hedge maze (it was commissioned around 1700 by William III), it has been puzzling visitors for over 300 years with its twists, turns and dead ends. It covers a third of an acre and, on average, it takes around 20 minutes to reach the centre.

Step back into the Tudor world with our 2FOR1 entry offer for Hampton Court Palace. Not valid from 15 July to 8 September 2019.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

Hampton Court Palace

The art deco one

Tucked away in the leafy environs of Greenwich, in south-east London, is Eltham Palace and Gardens – an extraordinary combination of medieval Gothic-meets-art deco modernity. Originally built as a gift for Edward II in 1305, it was used as an official royal residence for 200 years and can lay claim to hosting the only Byzantine emperor to visit our shores, Manuel II Palaiologos.

Fast forward to the early 20th century, when the then-decrepit palace fell into the hands of eccentric millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. The couple set about transforming it into a lavish art deco-inspired home, incorporating original medieval features into their ultra-modern 1930s design. Don’t miss the map room, where they planned their exotic world travels, and the centrally heated sleeping quarters specially designed for their pet lemur – not to mention Virginia’s walk-in wardrobe bursting with period attire, and the luxury wartime bunker.

The 19 acres of gardens will delight in all seasons. In summer, the herbaceous border is a riot of colour, butterflies and bees, while the fragrant rose garden and wildflower meadows are unmissable.

For a taste of art deco fabulousness, enjoy our Eltham Palace 2FOR1 entry offer. Not valid on event days or bank holidays.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

Eltham Palace and Gardens